5 places to find influencers (and why you want to)

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I spent Monday at the Social Media Marketing 2011 conference in San Francisco.  Lots of the speakers talked about “influencers,” a word I hate, loathe, and despise, but…  I’m fighting a losing battle on that linguistic annoyance, so I thought I’d just share some of the takeaways and get it over with.

In the good old days, “influencers” were in the mass media — e.g. the reporter who specialized in your industry.  Marketers would try to cultivate the right press people, targeting them with PR.  What’s changed, of course, is the media itself.  We now live in the age of new media, where bloggers, specialists and even other customers have just as much influence, if not more, than mainstream media types.   Your influencer today could be a mom with a popular blog, or the world’s biggest Disney fanatic who rules a forum with an iron fist.  Yeah, it’s weird.  It can also be good news for small businesses who don’t have the connections to reach Oprah or that Wall St. Journal reporter.  But in the Internet’s chorus of competing voices, finding the right influencer can be a challenge.

How to find influencers who carry weight when it comes to your product, industry, or service?  If you’re willing to put in a little time, below are five places to look:

  1. Ask your employees what websites, blogs, and forums they follow.
  2. Poll your clients about the same.
  3. Check the abovementioned forums.  Forums are all over the Internet, talking about everything from Disney vacations to engineering whizbangs.  Start following the forums and see who posts the most and carries the most authority.
  4. Check the websites and blogs and analyze them for content regarding your industry.  Which have the highest search rankings?
  5. Don’t forget your own back yard.  Don’t overlook the power of your own friends and customers.  A chain of friends who retweet to their followers can be a powerful business driver for the small business owner.

One important note — you have to earn influencers.  Sending out a press release or blasting them with spam won’t cut it.  You need to develop a dialog and engage with them.  The good news is that influencers tend to travel in packs; if you get one on your side, some of their buddies may follow.

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